When Tesla arrived on the scene 10 years ago, no major automaker took it very seriously—let alone thought it would cause the disruption it has in the market for luxury cars.
At the same time, BMW, once the harbinger of performance and luxury, worries that it may be falling behind when it comes to electric vehicles and technology innovation.
Now, the automaker has turned to scaring its employees, according to Bloomberg, with conferences revolving around the threats BMW faces from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, and even Jaguar.
"We’re in the midst of an electric assault,” the presenter said at one such gathering as a photo of Tesla CEO Elon Musk is flashed on the screen. “This must be taken very seriously.”
BMW is working to face the threat of other automakers, and indeed taking the threat seriously, even after it became the first German automaker to sell a dedicated electric car, the innovative and pioneering BMW i3 hatchback.
Since then, many other makers have swooped in and the BMW i3 and i8 launched in 2013 no longer represent the cutting edge of what's capable in electric cars.
“BMW is falling behind in electrics,” says Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Union Investment.
At the future training workshops, employees crammed into auditoriums to learn the ways of future transportation and understand the day will come when a BMW isn't purchased, but ordered via a smartphone.
The Vision Next 100, a zero-emissions concept is meant to represent BMW's future, previews a fully autonomous vehicle coming in 2021.
The concept celebrated 100 years of BMW and showcased other future endeavors in materials, such as 4D printed parts, technology, and customization.
In the meantime, Tesla and Mercedes-Benz already employ some driverless technology in their vehicles. There too, BMW lags.
“It’s easy to fall into a closed way of thinking,” said Jutta Schwerdtle, a session leader at the training conference who works in market research. “This helps push people out of that.”
As this push continues, some of BMW's innovators have left the company for new opportunities.
Two of its alternative-propulsion team leaders left BMW for Chinese start-ups, while some BMW designers continue to seek new creative houses, calling current motifs less daring.
Such turnover in customary in Silicon Valley, but mostly foreign to the traditional, closed, and long-horizon German auto industry.
At the end of the training session, according to Bloomberg, employees had begun to understand the message: adapt or be left behind.
“We were reminded of what we’re trying to achieve,” Michael Manz, responsible for developing sensors for self-driving cars, said. “It gets us focused on where we’re going.”
BMW's next new electric car is thought to be an all-electric compact crossover utility vehicle with a range of 200 miles or more.
But its production launch isn't expected until 2019, fully six years after the i3 went on sale in Germany.